While sustainable sourcing of wood products has gained the awareness of commercial and residential clients, customer requests for more sustainable wood coatings is also on the rise, accompanied by a growing concern over indoor air quality.

For the most part, efforts to regulate use of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in wood coatings has primarily been tied to ozone smog-reduction and air pollution. Focus is on limiting or eliminating VOC use, particularly in urban centers. And because regulatory initiatives tend to be region-specific, there are a thicket of localized regulations.

The Collection of Regulators
San Diego’s Linden Painting & Refinishing, which refinishes wood furniture, holds a fist-full of permits: County of San Diego Dept. of Environmental Health Permit; Environmental Protection Agency I.D. as well as permits from the County of San Diego Air Pollution Control District to run a furniture paint shop. “These agencies were established to insure that companies operate in a safe manner and control the release of pollutants into the environment,” says Dave Linden, president, and they are “mandatory for legal operation of a painting and refinishing business in San Diego County.”

Sherwin Williams’ website lists six major regulatory agencies for VOCs, both national and regional, whose rules change over time:

• United States EPA AIM
• Northeast Ozone Transport Commission (OTC), otcair.org
• California Air Resources Board (CARB), arb.ca.gov
• South Coast Air Quality Management Dist., aqmd.gov
• Southwest Air Pollution Control Authority, swcleanair.org
• Maricopa County Air Quality Department, Maricopa.gov.aq

While focus on indoor air quality is increasing, it’s directed concerns about multiple sources, including upholstery, wall paints, and carpeting, as well as indoor ventilation systems. But interior wood is also a factor. For some time, off-gassing of formaldehyde from manufactured wood panels and components has gained awareness, especially among professional purchasing agents of business and institutional furnishings and interiors.

In the residential arena, consumer concerns about the presence of solvents in finishing used on cabinetry, flooring, trim and furnishings is in the early stages. A visit to the green information website pages at big-box home improvement centers shows sustainability translates almost entirely on chain of custody and ethical sourcing practices for exotic wood; and reduction of energy usage.

Buyers of wood products finishes and coatings have a smorgasbord of certifications to verify that furnishings and cabinetry measure up for improved indoor air quality. There is no shortage of paints, washes, stains and varnishes labeled as “green” or “greener,” so delivering on requests for greener products is further complicated.

Atlanta-based testing and assessment firm Air Quality Sciences advises consumers to “select furniture that does not emit formaldehyde,” noting “many home furniture products and cabinets are made with pressed wood using adhesives that contain urea-formaldehyde resins.” Air Quality Sciences suggests natural finishes “like shellac, linseed oil or beeswax that are more environmentally friendly.”

The confusing scene facing consumers is documented in a report by TerraChoice, “The Sins of Greenwashing,” which surveyed 5,296 items with environmental claims, including building and construction products. Findings “demonstrate the prolific misuse of [environmental] terms in the marketplace,” says TerraChoice. The number of green building and construction products increased 108 percent last year, says TerraChoice, with GreenGuard, UL Environment and EcoLogo among the most credible green certification labels.

Certified Green Supplies
One certifying body, Green Seal, has 30 issued standards that cover over 193 product and service categories in paints and coatings. This includes verification of stains and finishes and applies to water-borne, solvent-borne, semi-transparent or opaque stains and varnishes, shellacs, water-based finishes, polyurethane, lacquer, oil finishes and clear metal standard includes product performance requirements and environmental and health requirements such as reduced use of hazardous substances and requires low volatile organic compound (VOC) content.

The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System™, developed by the U.S. Green Building Council, provides a suite of standards for environmentally sustainable construction.

Late last year Underwiters Laboratory launched UL Environment source for independent green claims validation, product certification, training, advisory services and standards development. It provides environmental claims validation; sustainable product certification; environmental product declarations.
Among wood product green seals:
EcoLogo Architectural Coatings
GreenGuard Environmental Institute – standards and certifies low-emitting interior products.
KCMA Environmental Stewardship Programs
BIFMA level™ weighted sustainable furnishings evaluation program
MPI Green Performance from the Master Painters Institute
Scientific Certification Systems for paints and coatings..

The dozens of waterborne finishing and coating materials suppliers listed in the Red Book resource guide find some creating their own green product seal. Coatings suppliers also provide a wealth environmental information and practical tips.

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